AUTHORS NOTE: This is just a silly little piece of nothing that hit me when I was packing up to leave University; sadly, I haven't left true love up there; and it seemed like an ample moment for a romance one shot. The title is sucky; if anyone comes up with a better one then let me know!
"I'm leaving," the simple sentence left her unmade lips so effortlessly and yet it hit him like a tonne of bricks as she ran her trembling hand, the only sign that this conversation was having any effect on her, through her unwashed strawberry blonde locks. Even now as they're arguing, he can't help but muse on how she hated her hair being defined as that colour but it was true, especially since the auburn had weakened throughout her four years being here. Closing his eyes, he couldn't help but laugh at his chain of thoughts.
Hearing his chuckle, she turned to look at him fully and he couldn't help but notice how her eyes glistened with unshed tears, her cheeks flushed with emotion as she tried to control her breathing. "You find this funny?" She whispered and that seemed to be the breaking point as a fat tear drop slipped down the curve of her cheek, teasing the corner of her trembling mouth before reaching her chin.
Sobering up, he shook his head. "Nothing about this situation is funny, Alyssa-Jane," The use of her real name caused her to glare at him but the effect was lost due to the falling tears and the sound of a sob being caught in her throat. "I never once imagined we'd be having this conversation." His hand reached out to caress her jaw, his thumb running along the tear track on her cheek before pressing a small kiss to the corner of her lips. The familiar taste of salt just reminding him of the situation, a knot forming in his stomach as he realised that she wasn't lying. She really was planning on leaving.
"Well that was naivety on your behalf, Finley," she snapped harshly as she pulled away from him, the back of her hand harshly wiping at her cheek and he couldn't work out whether or not she was trying to remove the tears or his touch. "You knew that once my schooling was up, I'd have to return home and you're the one that..." She stopped talking, her head tilted to the side as she closed her eyes.
He'd been the one to mention a measly few months before that he'd loved her since the first minute he'd seen her walk into the halls of residence four years previously. Her auburn hair had been tied back into a loose pony tail, her face make-up free and she wore a holey pair of jogging pants that were three sizes too large for her as well as the hooded sweatshirt from her high school. Endless boxes of books had been lying at her feet, her hands on her hips as she listened to her mother chastise her in a burly Yorkshire accent; a sound unfamiliar in this part of the Scottish highlands; for the amount she'd brought with her. Drawn to the way her plump lips had curved into a smile as she'd pulled her mother, who was a good foot and a few inches shorter than her, into a one armed hug and had just laughed about how much she was going to miss her ways. He'd offered her his help and their friendship, as well as becoming room mates as they'd find out ten minutes later, had begun.
She'd been unlike any other girl in the halls of residence. Her make-up bag was only opened when they were planning nights out to the local bars, her wardrobe seemed to consist of clothes that were for comfort as well as being too large and she seemed to enjoy lying on the living room floor with the latest fiction book she'd picked up. The simple things had been enough for her and that had enchanted him. However, he'd never said anything until the previous New Year when she'd stayed in Scotland to celebrate Christmas and New Years with him because her family had gone abroad to celebrate the holidays. The bells had chimed at midnight and he'd pulled her against him, his lips pressing against hers in what was supposed to be an innocent kiss but he supposed it was the drunk courage that had turned it into something ten times more.
They'd been even more inseparable ever since and everyone had stated that the first years of their friendship had pretty much been them dating any way because neither had ever had a relationship, besides their deep friendship. This bomb was unexpected though and he didn't know how to react. "You can't leave me..." he whispered as reached back out for her, his forehead pressing against her as his fingertips teased the hair at the nape of her neck. The conversation seemed to have ended, the emotion between the two of them too strong for words to be used but they both knew that at the end, she would be leaving.
"Fuck," she cursed aggressively as she banged her hand against the steering wheel of the banged up car that had been a pain in her arse since she'd bought it three months previously. "Why, out of all the days in our short relationship, did you pick today to conk out on me?" Looking at the delicate gold chain watch on her wrist, she closed her eyes as she realised that she was already ten minutes late for the rehearsal dinner so what was another hour or two going to matter. Climbing out of the car, she slammed the car door shut before moving forward and kicking the front wheel. "It's a good thing I love you, you useless piece of junk."
Letting out a final growl of exasperation, paired with another kick to the car wheel, she wrestled her Blackberry out of her denim mini skirt pocket and dialled Katie's, her friend and the bride-to-be, number. It literally rang twice before Katie answered demanding to know where she was. "I broke down and the tow truck won't be here for another hour or so but they said if I can get a ride then I can just leave," her friend interrupted allowing her a minute to remember how much she'd hated the small town life because everyone trusted everyone, even strangers, "I know you told me to come yesterday and stay overnight, Katie, but I couldn't get away that... Thank you, thank you! I will be eternally grateful to you and whoever you find to pick me up." Ringing off, she smiled up at the sky. "Throw everything you've got at me today, big guy, but I am going to take the higher road, okay?" She warned before moving to the trunk of her car.
This, she rationalised, was karma. It had been five years since she'd returned to the small Scottish town where she'd attended universty since the evening she'd ran away, returning to England, without a second thought. If it wasn't for the fact that Katie, one of her closest university friends, was getting married than she'd probably have stayed away for another five years, or even longer. It wasn't that she didn't love her life up here, she loved everything about it, but she enjoyed the lack of complications that came from living alone in England. She stayed in touch with all the girls through social networking sites, e-mails and even shared the odd phone call with them every now and again but she had made no attempts to return to the small town.
Katie's invitation to the wedding, done through phone call so that she couldn't avoid answering, had been enough to fill her with dread because she knew that everything she'd left behind and, more importantly, who she'd left behind, would be there at the wedding and she wouldn't know how to react around them. Katie had pleaded, begged and promised that it would be the best weekend of their life and that her refusal to come was just not acceptable so she'd caved and had stated that she would most definitely come. After this admission, Katie had cleared her throat and said the one line that made her regret saying yes. "He's going to be there as the best man." Stating that she was fine with this, she had promised to be there and then had ended the phone call.
Unzipping her purple suitcase, she pulled out the green body-con dress, white shirt as well as the make-up bag that rested on the top of her belongings before closing the suitcase lid down and placing everything on top of it. "You're a real classy chic, AJ Green," she mumbled to herself as she started to unbutton the summer yellow cotton shirt she'd been wearing for her travels and slid it down her shoulders, screwing it into a ball and throwing it into the boot of her car. Popping the button to her mini skirt, she pushed that down her legs and before allowing that to join her neglected shirt in the boot of the car so she remained standing in the middle of the back road wearing her matching green underwear set and her mid-calf leather boots.
"Classy isn't what I'd call it," the familiar Scottish drawl caused her spine to stiffen as she turned round to look at him, a forced smile highlighting her features as she looked into the face of her ex-boyfriend, Finley Smith.
"How did you get here so fast?" She demanded to know as she knew that it had not been more than fifteen minutes since she'd phoned Katie. Reaching out for her dress, she flapped it out as if trying to remove any imaginary creases before pulling it over her head and squeezing herself into it.
"I was running late and Katie phoned to say her friend was stuck on one of the back roads so could I go pick her up," and Finley was going to kill Katie when he got his hands on her. He should have pushed to find out which friend it was because he had not expected his ex-girlfriend, the girl that had broken his heart to be exact, to be the damsel in distress that he had to save.
It had been five whole years since they'd last seen each other and he couldn't help but admire the changes. She'd cut off all her ginger hair into a pixie cut with a long side fringe that fell carelessly into the bewitching grey eyes that always sparkled, no matter what mood she was in. This new look revealed her left ear which she'd always had heavily pierced but he noticed that was now joined by a tattoo of a star containing four digits – 4.6.10 – just behind it. She was now all bone, he had noticed as she'd just stood in her bra and pants before him but it suited her.
"Do you often change at the side of the road?" He asked watching as she pulled on the oversized white shirt that didn't particularly go with the tight emerald green dress and yet she made it look like it was designed to be worn that way.
Smiling at him, she leant down to take off her boots before throwing them into the boot of her car and replacing them with a pair of skyscraper white heels that added unneeded height but she'd always looked damn good in heels, he remembered. "Only when my car breaks down and I'm running late. I didn't expect anyone to be driving along as I was doing it," she promised digging through her suitcase and pulling out a chain of pearls that she added to her outfit before looking at him. "I'm sorry. You shouldn't have had to come get me." She mumbled but it was more to her suitcase that she was now heaving out of the trunk of her car so that it could go in his because she would need it for the wedding tomorrow.
"AJ, I wouldn't want any woman to be stranded at the side of the road." He assured her before grabbing hold of the suitcase, closing down the boot before pointing at her make-up bag. "Don't forget the war paint."
Numbly reaching out for her make-up bag, she walked back to the front of the car and opened the passenger seat so that she could get her keys out. "Any woman" was what he'd said. She shouldn't expect that after all these years, especially after she'd been the one to break it off without any answers, that he'd been happy to see her but cold... cold had never been in Finley's repertoire. Truthfully though, what had she expected? For him to run to her? His arms wide open with a look of love on his face? Yeah right. AJ wouldn't be surprised if there was already a Mrs-Smith-to-be in the wings but she'd just not came to the wedding because it was apparent his car was empty. Locking up her car, she gave it one last glare for breaking down before moving towards his car and believing, once again, that this was karma.
If it wasn't for the fact that AJ's car had literally broken down, Finley would have believed that Katie had manipulated this situation to happen. For five years, Katie had been insisting that Finley grow a romantic bone and chase after AJ to England so that he could convince her that their relationship could stand the test of time. AJ had left because her years at university had ended and, even though he'd offered her a home with him, she'd decided that going back to her family home was the only option she had and needed. He hadn't argued with her. He'd simply watched from a distance as she packed up her belongings, awkwardly dividing what they'd bought together, and shoved it into the back of Uncle's truck. They didn't speak again after that first conversation where she explained she had to leave. No goodbyes, no I love you's or that they could make it work over the distance. He'd simply watched her leave, a lone tear slipping down his cheek as he realised that he'd watched the one thing that had made his life whole go without putting up a fight.
Now, as she sat in the passenger side of his car applying make-up, he couldn't think of a single thing to say to her. For five years, he'd imagined what this day would be like and each scenario had been different. He'd imagined being angry, being upset or just being nonchalant but, in good AJ style, she'd thrown him off by being semi naked on the side of the road. There was no angry, no sadness and he most definitely didn't feel nonchalant. Instead, he'd felt aroused like none of his lovers since her departure had ever achieved and yet she hadn't done anything but stand there innocently in front of him.
"You look good, AJ." Deciding that the silence had been too much, Finley grimaced at how stupid his comment had sounded and wished that he could take it back. AJ, however, just put the cap back on her eye-liner pencil and turned to look at him.
"Do you think the old gang will like the new look?" She asked threading her fingers through the pixie short hair, tousling it a little, before making sure the fringe sat right but not so it looked as if she'd arranged it. It was all about the tousled look.
"Well you did always joke that you were going to do it one day," he remembered before noticing that she had another tattoo on her right wrist of a daisy chain. "Did your sister get one too?" AJ's sister had spent a week with them in first year and they had been sharing a flat take out when Dia had stated that they should both get daisy chains tattooed on their wrists as a sign of both their strong friendship and sisterhood. AJ had just laughed before sharing with the rest of the flat about how much of a wuss her sister was so would never get tattooed but the daisy chain on her wrist stated otherwise.
"You remember that?" She laughed as she ran a manicured fingertip over the tattoo before looking down at it, her expression sobering quickly as she shook her head. "No. I'm the only one who got it," she stated without offering an explanation but he did notice that her left hand closed over the tattoo as if trying to hide it.
"Do you have any more?"
Turning to look at him, he noticed the familiar teasing glint back in her eyes and she just winked. "You'll have to find out." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. How could it be that after five years of absence, she could still be this bloody comfortable around him? Teasing wasn't something she could do with him any more, she reminded herself as she saw the manor house approaching. "Oh yay," she mumbled to herself, her hands quickly putting everything into her make-up bag before she threw it into his back seat, again being too comfortable, for bending down and grabbing the small clutch bag.
Parking, Finley switched the engine off before climbing out and running round to help her out of the car. Holding on to her hand, he pulled her flush against his chest before whispering into her ears, "don't promise things that you can't keep." He warned as he stepped back and she felt her heart beat skip for a moment, a gasp escaping her before she was drawn out of her reverie by someone calling her name. What was happening here?
Ducking down into one of the seats out in the garden, AJ leant back against the wall as she ran her fingertips up and down the stem of her champagne flute. Only an hour and a half had passed since she'd entered the manor house and already she'd been engulfed by all her old university friends, bombarded with questions about her life and compliments about her new look as well as the odd disapproving look from other people. That, however, wasn't what was bothering her. No. It was Finley.
Despite it having been five years, AJ could still sense his gaze on her as she moved through the room and could still feel the heat that used to once radiate off her at the idea of knowing that he was watching her. She'd been so terrified of coming back to see him. She'd started to fear that she was dead inside because she'd not felt a thing on any other date she'd been on since their relationship. That, however, obviously wasn't the case now. Now, she just wanted to run into his arms and promise him that he could see every inch of her body, every new tattoo, if he would just touch her or kiss her one more time.
Every time they'd come here with Katie and their friends, the two of them would have ended up out here in this little rose garden by themselves, even before they were dating. She couldn't help but look around at the roses, their scent sickly sweet and teasing her nose as she realised that they were just bringing back painful memories for her.
The rain fell heavy but she had needed to get out. Another row with Finley about something so damned trivial that she couldn't remember it over what they'd then started yelling at each other. Running to the rose garden, she felt sick at the intensity of the scent that was just heightened by the salt of the rain water but she didn't move on. This was her tranquil place. Even though the crowd had only been hanging out here for a year or so, this was where AJ felt like she could be herself and just allow her thoughts to run wild. She'd made the mistake the last time they'd been here to share that titbit of information with Finley and it wasn't long before she heard his footsteps behind her.
"You can't just run out on me into the rain, AJ. You'll get sick." He pointed out as he took hold of her in his arms, his hand pushing her wet fringe back from her face and looked into her face. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"I shouldn't be such a cry baby," she pointed out, one of the phrases that he'd thrown at her back in her room, and she couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of satisfaction at the guilt in his face.
"I shouldn't have said that, Ayje," the nickname caused her to glare but she leant into press a kiss to his lips, her arms wrapping around his neck as she showed him that she'd forgiven him. She'd have forgiven him anyway but she enjoyed knowing that he'd chased after her.
"It didn't take you long to break away," Katie teased as she handed over a small plate filled with food, a smile on her hand assuring that she wasn't actually angry that AJ was hiding out in the garden but did find it rather amusing. "Thank you for coming, Alyssa. I know you didn't want to."
"I did," AJ promised as she looked over at her friend, stealing a piece of food and looking at it for a moment before deciding that she didn't care what it was as she put it into her mouth. "I really wanted to come back up here to visit you guys, Katie. It's been hard recently and..." Looking down at the champagne flute, she couldn't help but feel a familiar lump in her throat but she focused on her breathing for a few minutes to control herself before moving her gaze back to Katie. Reaching out, she took hold of her once closest friend's hand and smiled. "I wouldn't want to miss you walking down the aisle for anything, Katie."
"You would have had a much larger position in this wedding if..." Katie stopped talking as she realised that she didn't have to continue. AJ knew that once upon a time it would have been her standing next to Katie tomorrow morning as the maid of honour but then she'd left and had avoided them all for five years. "I'd have been there for you, you know."
"I know." AJ promised as she squeezed the hand. "And I'm eternally grateful for that but I didn't want..." She stopped talking again as she shook her head. "It was a family problem though and I..." Realising that Katie was practically family to her, she just laughed as she reached out and pressed a kiss to her friend's cheek. "I'm sorry but let's not talk about the shit that happened in my life. This weekend is solely about you. Okay?"
Katie just laughed as she rested her hand on AJ's shoulder. "You most definitely don't hear any complaints from me, my love." AJ just forced a smile as she looked at her friend, her head nodding as she sighed. "Do you feel ready to go back inside?"
"I think I'm ready for that," she lied knowing that what she really wanted to do was run to the mechanics, plead for her car and break away from here without even looking back. This mental behaviour was unacceptable though. Everyone here adored her like she was family and yet she couldn't bear to be with them for longer than an hour or so. How bad had things become?
Standing at the bar, Finley laughed along with the jokes that everyone was sharing but that wasn't what he was focusing on. Truth be told, he didn't know if he'd ever be able to repeat the jokes back to you because he wasn't completely listening. His focus was on the ginger girl that had broken his heart so many years ago and had arrived back into his life merely two hours ago.
Five years ago, even though they'd only been dating such a short time, he'd thought that this would be them. One day, they'd be getting married with everyone standing around them and wishing them the best in their life together. Their families would be gathered around them, Dia threatening him if he was to ever hurt her sister and his brother probably flirting with every female friend they'd invited. It had been a perfect dream but that hadn't been it all. He'd just wanted a happily ever after with the only woman to ever cause a stir in him, even if he had been so young. No one could ever say that a sweaty girl with more curves that was accepted by society had caused a stir in them on their first meeting but he could. He'd known right there that the nameless ginger girl with her teasing smile and friendly grey eyes would play a major role in his life. So how had he been stupid enough to let her go without any reason?
He'd watched her leave the room earlier, Katie close on her heels so he couldn't chase after her but he'd seen the look on her face. She'd look horrified, trapped and that had hurt him. He didn't even know why. She'd made her bed and laid in it when she decided to leave but he didn't enjoy knowing that the people in this room, who were once her closest friends, now terrified her. Threading his fingers through his hair, he drained the remainder of the whiskey before deciding that he needed to go for a walk.
Reaching the gardens, he had just been about to walk down to the lake at the bottom when he saw Katie and AJ talking to each other. Their expressions were deep and he could see sadness in AJ's eyes. He wondered what they were talking about. Could she be feeling guilt at having left them this long? No. He doubted. If she felt that bad about it, she'd have returned years ago. Sighing, he continued on his walk.
The lake at this time of year was beautiful. The sunlight glistened against the flat surface and they'd always gone skinny dipping during the summer breaks they'd spent here as a group of friends. Katie's dad rarely opened the manor to people but when he'd learnt that his baby girl had made friends at university, friends that hadn't give a damn about her money, he'd opened it to them all and that just helped their bond to become deeper.
Sitting by the bank, AJ watched as the four boys and Katie splashed about in the water in their skimpy swim clothes. She, however, was wearing a pair of leggings and an oversized tee shirt. Large sunglasses shielded her eyes from the sunlight as she pulled the latest crime novel she'd bought out of her handbag. Due to her ivory skin, AJ tried her best to avoid going in the water and Finley had watched as she'd laid out on the grass and opened the book. Smiling, he signalled to the rest of the team so that they were all going to participate in what he was about to plan.
"Baby girl, you should go take a dip," he called out to her as he started walking towards her. Looking up from her book, he cast him a look before shaking her head and returning her gaze to the book. It wasn't long before they were all on her, their hands grabbing at her as they lifted her into the air. "Drop the book," Finley cried out over her squeals as she tried to wrestle free. "She'll only kill us if it gets destroyed."
"Damn fu..." her sentence ended as she she hit the water, their laughter ringing out in the air as they dove in after her. Coming up for air, she rubbed at her face before swinging out for Finley. "You're a son of a bitch, Finley!" He just laughed by grabbing hold of her wrist and pulling her into him, his arm wrapping around her waist as he pressed a kiss to the tip of her nose. "Oh no, boy You can't kiss your way out of this one." She snapped and he just laughed harder as he watched her walk back towards the river bank, her tee shirt now clinging to every curve that she hated and yet he found himself wolf whistling after her. Turning to look at him, AJ's glare softened before she shook her head and continued back up to her book.
Finley couldn't help but think about how much easier life had been back then for them. She'd laughed at his silly jokes, he'd put up with her spending her last few pounds on a new novel rather than actual food and together they worked. It was perfect and yet she'd obviously disagreed or she would never have walked away from him.
Deciding that that was more than just enough memories for one night, Finley headed back up towards the house where he decided he'd sit out on the courtyard for a short while. Hidden behind the ivy divider and a varied range of potted plants, he realised that he was safe from other guests for a short while but it also left him privy to other conversations. "Can you believe she's back?" He recognised the voice but couldn't place the it.
"Alyssa, of course!" The woman bristled at the other's obvious ignorance. "She left poor Finley heart broken five years ago and she just saunters in here as if she belongs. It's disgusting if you ask me." Well no one asked you, you miserable... he stopped talking mentally as he realised the conversation hadn't ended.
"Come now," the third voice chastised and he recognised that to be Katie's, she must have finished talking to AJ and had decided to mingle with these girls, "she's my friend no matter what. And she didn't leave because she wanted to."
"Of course, the sob story about her sister..."
"Sob story?" Katie's volume had risen slightly but there was a few moments of silence that made Finley wonder if Katie was trying to compose herself so not to cause a scene. "We all know that AJ's been struggling with Dia's death so..."
The rest of the conversation landed on deaf ears as Finley walked backwards slightly, stumbling over one of the potted plants as he heard the words go around his mind over and over again. Dia was dead? Why hadn't he been told? "Oh my god, Finley!" Katie cried out as she rounded to see him standing there, the horror on her face showing that he should never have heard that statement. "You shouldn't have... Oh fuck..." He couldn't help but chuckle at that. Little Katie never swore. "She's going to be so mad at me."
"Why didn't she ever tell me?" Finley demanded to know. Why would she allow him to think that she'd just left because she no longer loved him rather than just explain that Dia was dead? He'd have understood that! No one knew how close the two sisters were more than Finley. Thinking back to the car, his question about the daisy chain and the sad look on her face as she scratched at the tattoo before quickly stating that she'd been the only one to get one.
"She didn't want you to think you could fix it."
"And could it have been fixed?"
"Only by AJ, Finley. Dia had some sort of recessive illness and AJ's blood or something matched..." Pressing her hand to her mouth, Katie shook her head. "She didn't want anyone to know. She believes that she failed her sister. Only she could save her and..."
"She died." Finley said finishing the sentence for her. How could AJ think like that? Dia had always been an ill child. The two sisters had had to beg their parents for them to allow Dia to come up and spend time with AJ without them. It had taken a lot of work and the two had been ecstatic when it happened. They'd spent hours on the phone planning activities, counting down the days and just making sure that their parents were okay with it.
The thing that hurt the most was that AJ had never told him. How many nights had they laid up wake, even just as friends, talking about all the deep things in their life? He'd told her about his abusive relationship with his father and she about her ex-boyfriend, a man who had constantly abused her, emotionally and physically, until eventually she'd snapped and became bulimic. He thought they knew each other's secrets but it seemed he was wrong about that. She kept one secret from him. The one secret that plagued her the most.
He needed to talk to her. Turning on his heel, he headed towards her room where he sensed she'd probably have run to when he couldn't see her in the ballroom. He ignored Katie's cry of his name, the desperation in her tone not to go talk to her because it would just upset her friend more and she didn't want her to run away. Finley promised himself that this time, AJ wouldn't have the opportunity to run. She'd talk to him and she'd make him understand why she thought she had to go through all of this on her own.
Escaping the ballroom had been easier than she'd expected, AJ thought as she sunk down on the double bed and curled up in the covers even though she hadn't taken off her dress. It had only been three hours but yet today's activities and having to pretend to be happy about being here had literally drained her. Napping, she decided, sounded like the best idea she'd had all year when a sudden thump on her door caused her to jump up.
"Who is it?" She called out, feeling guilty that she'd been caught out sneaking away.
"Finley," she repeated climbing out of the bed and moving to open the door. "Is everything okay?" She asked when she saw his face.
"No." He admitted truthfully and she just looked at him, waiting for him to elaborate but he didn't, before nodding her head slowly as she opened the door for him to enter. "Why did you leave me all those years ago, AJ?"
"My time at university was up and..." She watched his face fall, his eyes close and a tear slip down his cheek causing her to rush over to him. "Finley, what is it?" AJ pleaded with him to tell her as she wiped away the tears with the pad of her thumb.
He'd promised himself that he would be angry with her. Shout, scream blue murder and demand to know how she could be such a cold-hearted bitch and not tell him but that hadn't happened. He'd realised that she really did believe that she, and she alone, could be the only one to save her sister. Why would you share such a thing with someone because then others would know that you'd failed on your destiny?
Closing his fingers around her wrist, he turned his head and pressed a kiss to the palm that had been caressing his cheek. "Tell me you loved me, AJ. Tell me you loved me all those years ago."
She stared at him, her eyes wide as she listened to his words and she couldn't help but shake her head. "No. You can't do this to me, Finley. Why dredge up the history when..." She saw something harden in his eyes, the sadness turned to anger and she couldn't help but feel as if he was suddenly starting to believe that she hadn't loved him. "Finley, I loved you so much. It hurt to leave."
"So why did you leave?" He asked and when she opened her mouth, he growled. "The truth."
AJ worked it out from that. He knew the truth. She should have known it would be the gossip of this little gathering the minute she'd walked back in. Everyone would whisper about how she'd left behind her whole life to save her sister and she'd failed. "She died, Finley. I failed her." She whispered as her eyes closed. "She refused treatment. When it came back again, she just couldn't fight and..." A lone tear slid down her cheek as she remembered how Dia had pleaded with AJ to return to Scotland, plead for Finley's forgiveness and have children that will learn about their special Auntie Dia, who was now an angel watching over them. AJ had just laughed and said that she'd never leave Dia alone, her hand holding onto her sister's as she watched her give up the fight and take her last breath. "She left me alone. After all this..."
Stepping back, she tore off the green dress and Finley noticed all the scars decorating her now skeletal body. Some of them had been there when they'd been lovers but she'd lied about them. She'd come up with creative little stories about how they'd happened and he'd just laughed about how she was clumsy but it was endearing. Now, he saw the truth. She'd been a pin cushion for her sister all these years. The look in her eyes in first year suddenly made sense. Fear at having to be so far away from her sister just in case she relapsed. It seemed, thankfully, that it had happened after she'd got her degree but then he guessed it had also been too late.
"She refused to let my folks phone me because she knew how much I loved being up here and how much I loved..." she stopped talking as she looked away from him, her eyes closing as she again remembered Dia sitting there and talking about how it was fantastic that AJ had finally met a man worthy enough of her time. Dia had joked that she had been thinking about getting AJ a cat for her next birthday so she could really be a cat lady. "All Dia wanted, Finley, was for me to live my life and for that to happen she had to sacrifice herself."
The words hit him. Dia had joked way back in first year that Finley and AJ should just have passionate sex and get it over with. If you couldn't have sex with a friend then who could have sex with? Such a simple question from a girl that had been loved by guys since she'd hit puberty whereas AJ had always been several steps behind. Dia had always known that they'd get together and she'd joked that she most definitely had to be the maid of honour because she'd predicted it.
"Baby," he choked out as he took hold of her face in his hands, "do you think she'll be happy that you've hidden from me for five years because of this guilt that's eating away at you?" Finley knew that using Dia was a dirty trick but he also knew it would be the only way to find out how she was truly thinking.
"She'd hate me," AJ laughed through her tears as she admitted that out loud. She'd been thinking about that a lot recently and that had been the final breaker for her returning to Scotland for the wedding. Dia wouldn't want her lying about in the flat they'd shared, her spare time dedicated to thinking about her deceased sister rather than being out there and living her life. "If she could come back and kick my ass, I think she would. All Dia ever wanted was for me to happy and for the past couple of years I've been anything but..."
"I'd have come with you," he whispered as he ran his hands down her face, his fingertips wiping away the tears before he pressed his fingertip against the star and finally understood the numbers. The day she'd lost Dia symbolised forever so she wouldn't forget – not that she would. Now he knew the truth, the last five years of anger and hatred disappeared into one emotion – guilt. Katie had known, he realised. For that first year after AJ had left, Katie had pushed and pushed for him to drive down to the town where she'd grown up and convince her, no matter what, they were meant to be. She'd wanted him to go down, learn the truth and stand there beside her through the hardest part of her life but he'd been too stubborn. All he could see was that a woman he thought loved him had left him at the first hurdle. When, in reality, he'd ditched her. If only he'd listened to Katie... "I should have come any way."
"Hey," she said pressing her hand against his chest and shook her head, "we can't live with "what if" scenarios, Finley because truthfully, I don't think I'd have come back with you even if you'd have chased me down." Reaching up, she wanted to touch him but at the same time she didn't want to cross that invisible boundary that she'd set up herself.
"I'd have stayed." He whispered back and she couldn't help but feel her heartbreak at the words because she knew that he was telling the truth. He'd have stayed with her throughout the entire emotional turmoil and would have probably helped her come out of it stronger than she had, than she was. Reaching out, he threaded his fingers through her short pixie cut and mourned the long locks that used to run down to her backside before realising that she looked so much older, maturer, with this cut. "I'd have been there for you, for Dia and..."
"I love you," the words caused his sentence to end as he looked at her. "I understand that it's probably too late but I just needed you to know that I've loved you all these years and I thought about you at least once a day. I stalked you so much on social networking, I subtly asked Katie about you and when you wrote your first novel," she didn't have to finish the sentence because he'd known that deep down she'd have gone to buy it. Even if she hadn't have been a book lover, the sight of his name would have been enough to drive her crazy with curiosity and he hoped she'd enjoyed it. It was from reading all her self-help books about writing that had kicked his writing in the first place. It had also been the reason that he'd dedicated the book to her but he wondered if she'd managed to crack the subtle message behind the dedication. "Thank you," she whispered and he knew that she had. "I know it's too late but I do love you. I've always loved you."
"AJ," he whispered looking over at her, his fingertips teasing the tattoo behind her ear before he stepped in and pressed a small kiss against her lips. "I've always loved you too. How could I not? But..." She closed her eyes and waited for the small bomb of him already having a fiancée or something that would break her heart. "it won't be that easy, Ayje. We need to take this slow. Go back to basics."
"So you want to take me out on a date?"
"Several," his arms wrapped around her waist, "but how are we going to deal with this when there's so much distance between us?"
AJ knew that there were three options here. One, they decided that going their separate ways was the only option and they'd finally feel like it was time to move on. This last moment together, standing at their friend's wedding in a hotel room and just holding on to each other would be a perfect way to say goodbye to their relationship. Second, he could give up everything he'd created here and move down to England to be close to her. It would seem like a good idea to start with but eventually it would be the reason to drive them apart due to him resenting her for taking him away from his home. Thirdly, and finally, she could always give up living with ghosts and return here. She was self-employed at the minute so setting up shop up here would be easy enough and she could always find a job out here where all her friends were.
"I'll come home," she whispered as she ran her fingertip across his forehead. "I have money set aside and can find a place up here and..." her words were cut off by his lips attaching to hers, his hands tightening on her hips as he tried to keep her close to him as if afraid that she could disappear again.
Pressing one last kiss to her lips, he ran his hand through her hair again and smiled. "This weekend is going to be about Katie, okay?" AJ nodded her head. Their mutual friend would hate for them to move outside and announce that they were starting again because it would steal the thunder. Katie wasn't selfish but this weekend was most definitely the only time in the world that she deserved to be. "Monday," he whispered as his fingers moved to tuck under his chin, "is where we announce that we're starting again and that you're moving back home."
"Home," she agreed, a tightness in his throat that she couldn't understand but she just smiled at him as she nodded her head. Pressing her hand against his, she leant in and pressed a kiss against his lips before closing her eyes as she remembered that she was still standing in front of him in her skimpy bra and knickers set. "It was inevitable really," she laughed, "no one can resist this." She said running her hands down her skeletal body causing him to want to comment about how he preferred the curves but decided not to. She'd always had self-esteem issues and he wasn't going to piss her off when he'd just got her back. Besides, he rationalised, she was still beautiful and she'd always wanted to be that thin. Hence the using her money to buy books rather than food when they were teenagers.
Laughing, he reached out to grab hold of her causing her to giggle. "Do you really need to get dressed?" Finley teased as he pressed a kiss to her lips, his hand taking hold of the green dress that she'd already picked up and holding it over their heads. "I mean, I do really prefer you like this..."
"Finley, we need to go back downstairs and get ready." Pausing, she looked over at him. "Should it be this easy?" She asked quietly and Finley lowered his hands, smoothing out the dress as he offered it out to her. He knew that her question was a serious one. Two hours ago, he was cursing the day he'd ever met the ginger haired and green eyed girl in front of him because of how she made him feel but now here he was standing in front of her, teasing as if there was no tomorrow. It really shouldn't be this easy, he decided, but then again they'd always been soul mates.
Helping her into the dress, he cupped her jaw into his hand. "You two should just have passionate sex and get it over with," the use of her sister's words caused her to stiffen but he didn't regret using them. "Back in first year, only a few months after we'd met each other for the first time, your sister could sense something between us." Laughing, she looked down at the tattoo on her wrist. Dia had always known that one day Finley and she would get married. Every phone call, text and e-mail would be demanding to know if she'd got drunk yet and had her wicked way with him so that she knew her plumbing – a sign that she was too close to her sister – actually worked. "We should have listened to her and then we wouldn't have wasted those first three years nor the later five," he pointed out as he tapped her nose. "It might be too easy, baby, but that's because we belong together. You and I. You're my missing piece and I'm yours. Don't second guess it, not again."
Looking at him, tears in her eyes as she walked over to him again fully dressed and pressed her hand against his chest. "Forever and ever, right?" He looked down at her, his own tears filling at the way she used to say that to him and how it bad been a statement that would one day remind him that they'd fallen out with each other, before nodding his head. Pressing his lips to hers once more, she felt herself well up again as she realised that she might have wasted the last five years but maybe they'd needed it. They'd both changed in that short time. She'd matured and realised that life needed to be lived whereas he'd found something he loved and enjoyed doing. She didn't care what adventures were coming their way because she knew now that they'd be okay, no matter what. Just as long as she had him and he had her then they'd be okay. It hurt to think that Dia was never going to see this and that she wouldn't be there to tease and chide them about how she'd been the one to set them up in the first place, all those years ago.
Closing her eyes, she felt the tears still falling as she whispered that she loved him against his lips and he might not have said the words but the tightening of his arms around her waist was all she needed. She knew that he wouldn't be letting her run away this time but, more importantly, she knew that she wouldn't want to run away. She wouldn't forget her sister like she'd been afraid of if she moved out of their shared flat. Instead she'd remember her as she lived her life the way Dia had deemed fit and that was most definitely with Finley.